Thursday, October 15, 2009

"Beyond Books: What is Literacy in the Digital Age?"

The October/November issue of NEA Today poses questions regarding the use of Web 2.0 in the classroom:
1. What does it mean to be literate in today's society, and how do we provide more than a superficial understanding of moving about on the internet?
2. How do we overcome the obstacles (financial difficulties, bureaucratic problems, misconceptions and image issues)?
3. What needs to happen to make teachers comfortable with using 21st century tools to teach 21st century skills?

Regarding the first question, I think our understanding of literacy is constantly evolving, so it's tough to pin it down. But if I'm doing my job right, on our best day in my class, my kids will learn how to collaborate with people from all over, articulate themselves clearly, and wade through the mass of information (and misinformation) out there to find valid sources for what they need. And what they do in any virtual environment can only enhance their real-world interactions.

The obstacles are out there, and they are myriad. But I think some of the biggest problems we face can play key roles in the solution. Every teacher I know is looking for a way to combat the negative effects of No Child Left Behind and a hurting economy. Technology may not be a silver bullet, but free online tools that genuinely bump up student engagement should be tough to pass up for teachers driven to make a change, creative enough to develop new ideas, and brave enough to break from some traditional practices.

As for question number three, I get to spend my day talking with other teachers about this one. Sounds like a good day :)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

"The Complete Guide to Going Paperless" and a Text Pick

Lifehacker's got the tricks for paperless life outside the classroom. Check them out here.

In other news, I've settled on the main text for my paperless experiment. Orwell's 1984 should give us topics aplenty to keep our blogs and Twitter feeds going strong next six weeks.

I'm currently reading Cory Doctorow's Little Brother, a 21st century Orwellian novel. It rocks! Serious potential there for my 10th graders in the future :) Many thanks to Dr. S at UA for the recommendation!


I heard, "If you like Delicious, you'll love Diigo! It's Delicious and SO MUCH MORE." So I had to check it out.

First impressions:
The "SO MUCH MORE" entails the ability to highlight and annotate websites and share your annotations with others.

For my personal use, I'm not a big fan of other people's comments scattered about on sticky notes attached to the pages that I visit.

For student use, I can see some potential here. We English teachers encourage our students to interact with the text, and Diigo makes that possible.


Time to start sharing resources.

I've been following some folks on Twitter - not quite ready to start chiming in, so I'm still a bit of a lurker. This means that many (MANY) times a day I'm receiving links to helpful lesson plans, websites, and tools. If not for Delicious, I'd be severely inundated by the constant flow of the Twitter stream.

As it is, I'm saving the good stuff for later use here. Perhaps my bookmarks'll be of use to others.

Monday, October 12, 2009

General Student Comments

As a wrap-up of our paperless classroom discussion last week, students wrote some general reflections about what we discussed. I am more committed now than ever to getting this up and running for them. :)

“Technology IS the future, and it wouldn’t hurt for us to be acquainted with it.” – 12th grade

“Six thumbs up!” – 10th grade

“I think that it could be a good thing because it can keep people up to date with what is going on in the world.” – 10th grade

“It might take a while to get used to, but it would be worth it in the end.” – 12th grade

The Cons

I saw many students expressing the same concerns about this new approach. Doing this will require a commitment from both the teacher and the students to be respectful of a new kind of classroom environment. Some of the most important lessons may come from developing students' understanding of what correct behavior is here.

“The problems that you would have with this if any would be that some kids may not be responsible enough and respect the equipment to be able to keep the privilege.”

“Students on other sites…” – 10th grade

“To some students, using technology in class would be a distraction.” – 10th grade

“Cause for more training. Batteries and hard drives aren’t as reliable as paper and ink.” – 12th grade

“Cheating on tests. Less interaction with student/teacher.” – 12th grade

The Pros

Below you'll find excerpts from my students' comments regarding the potential benefits of a paperless classroom:

“I think it would be good for us to do this because a lot of students would actually want to do their work because they would be using something that they like…We wouldn’t have to worry about students trying to talk over other students to answer or ask questions, and the students wouldn’t have to worry about raising their hands for a long time just to ask or answer a question.” – 10th grade

“Students would WANT to learn if we had more technology in the classroom.” – 12th grade

“It can motivate the students to do their work” – 10th grade

“More creative learning…” – 10th grade

“We can use video/digital cameras to have video diaries and to record class lectures if a student is absent.” – 12th grade

“Some benefits are not using any paper, not having to hand write so much, using less trees, and not having to spend so much money on supplies.” -10th grade

“We can use blogs to talk about books or give feedback on different things. We can use an online wiki for our word wall and notes.” – 10th grade

“We would be able to research things more without leaving the classroom.” – 10th grade

“…we would have more fun, and it would interest us.” – 10th grade

“Teachers will get to spend their money on field trips instead of buying extra stuff for students and buying tons of markers and other things for themselves.” – 12th grade

“You could have hands-on experience that’ll prepare you for the world or a certain job.” – 10th grade

“No one going to sleep. No one skips class. Everyone has fun.” – 10th grade

“We could multitask with laptops…Our ability to accomplish work could be multiplied tenfold.” – 12th grade

Student Feedback

Last week I discussed with my students the possibility of integrating more technology in our classroom. My kids worked in small groups and generated possible activity ideas as well as lists of pros and cons. After talking with each of the groups, I had them reflect in general on the notion of a paperless classroom.

I was excited to see how involved their discussions became. They're intrigued by the prospect of incorporating these new things, but they're also realistic and somewhat cautious regarding potential difficulties we might encounter. In the next few posts, I'll present some of the feedback that I got from them.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Just Digg

My last post reminds me of this...

Fact: I love Digg.

Are there possibilities here for class activities?

Has anyone used Digg in class before?

Digital Future and Digging for Funds

A recent stop by the New York Times Learning Network turned up this.

For the past two years, I've been involved in the textbook adoption process for our school. Last year, we went through the steps, but the funding wasn't there. No books. I'm okay with that.

It makes sense to me to put the money (when we dig it out from between the couch cushions) elsewhere. And by elsewhere I don't mean into copies of the textbook on CDs or DVDs issued to the students at the beginning of each semester. How many flip cameras, GPSs for geocaching, laptops, and other materials could we have purchased with the money we were planning to spend on grammar textbooks?

The resources I need to teach my kids, and teach them well, are out there, and many of them are free. As for the shinies that are a little more costly... I'm going digging tomorrow.

Sunday, October 4, 2009


Here are a few things I know:

1. My next case of copy paper from Office Depot will set me back $35.99.

2. Shaking my printer's toner cartridge til I'm dizzy will only get me so far, and the replacement's $77.99.

3. My lesson plans for tomorrow don't do a good job of reflecting what I believe about preparing my kids for the real world.

4. I have a computer and LCD projector in my classroom; access to laptops and wireless internet; some working knowledge of wikis, blogs, and Twitter; and a desire to change.

My plan is to begin moving toward a paperless classroom. During the final grading period of this semester, I hope to experiment with my Advanced English 12 class of 35 students. Learning from that six-week project, and planning over Christmas break, I'd like to implement paperless activities in each of my classes during the spring semester.

So these are the big questions I have so far:

1. How do I use Web 2.0 tools to create lessons that engage my kids and teach them things they value now and will use in the future?

2. What ground rules and procedures do I need to establish to ensure that they're focused on the tasks at hand, interacting with each other as a learning community, and not playing flash games for 98 minutes?

3. What texts will I use for this experiment, and what online resources will best help us to create some meaningful products in class?

Time to get to work on the -L.